Once again, the Maoists
have engineered a mass slaughter, this time at Darbha in Chhattisgarh,
killing 27, among them, Mahendra Karma, the architect of Salwa
Judum, who was under Z-plus protection. The reaction has been
somewhat more shrill in the present case, as compared to preceding
excesses, including the greater Chintalnar massacre which killed 76
security force (SF) personnel, because the Darbha attack killed politicians,
and is being projected as a 'direct assault on democracy'. It is not
clear how the killing of large numbers of SF personnel is less of
a 'direct attack' on the democracy that they stake their lives to
protect; but such distinctions are perhaps best understood by those
who have a more subtle appreciation of democratic theory.
Nevertheless, the greater agitation would be reassuring, if one could believe, as many commentators have stated, that the Darbha incident will be a 'turning point' in the national approach to counter-insurgency; that, finally, after decades of incoherence, prevarication and periodic cycles of political opportunism, consensus on dealing with the Maoists is near at hand. The Minister of State for Home, R.P.N. Singh, standing in for Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who chose not to disturb his vacation in the US, has assured us that "there will be more active operations" and that the Government would "relook" at its Naxal policy. Home Secretary R.K. Singh has declared that coordinated and joint operations will soon be launched in Chhattisgarh and neighbouring States. In the exercise of its hoary and revered 'battalion approach' to crisis management, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) has announced that all of two battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) are soon to be dispatched, to reinforce the 28 presently deployed in Chhattisgarh. The Prime Minister has reiterated his 'determination' to fight the Maoists. Various leaders from different political formations have, diversely, declared that the time has come to 'crush' the Maoists. Demands for the deployment of the Army and Air Force are rife.
none of this is particularly reassuring. But before examining the
reasons for this, it is useful to look at some essentials of the Darbha
incident. Various investigations have been instituted, and it is not
the intention, here, to second guess these. However, the magnitude
of the failure that preceded the attack is abundantly clear. Virtually
every aspect of state, security and administrative function collapsed,
and the most rudimentary of established procedures were ignored, virtually
gifting the Maoists with the opportunity to engineer this devastating
As usual, cries of 'intelligence
failure', including the Chief Minister Raman Singh's accusation that
the Centre provided 'no timely input', have been matched by the Centre's
assertions that due warning of escalating Maoist threat in the area
had been given. But those who speak of 'intelligence failure' lack
all understanding of the sheer disintegration of the system. The constant
demand for 'specific information' from the Intelligence Bureau (IB)
misunderstands both the nature of insurgent organisation and violence,
as well as the reality of the IB's existing capacities and mandate.
The IB has an actual strength of 18,975 personnel (against a sanction
of 26,867) including all support and secondary staff, and an unspoken
mandate that covers everything under the sun. No more than a few score
personnel would be fully committed to monitoring the Maoist movement
across the worst afflicted States, spanning nearly 500,000 square
kilometres (excluding affected areas in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal,
Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh) and a population of
well over half a billion. State intelligence agencies add limited
capacities to this rudimentary capability, as do technical surveillance
operations managed by the Air Force from faraway Hyderabad and the
more distant National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) at Delhi.
The combined intelligence cover in the Maoist heartland of Bastar
Divsion is sporadic, inaccurate, generalized and, indeed, often no
more than notional. To imagine that real time and actionable preventive
intelligence could be available on an incident like Darbha borders
on absurdity. Indeed, demands for specific intelligence on impending
Maoist attacks are no more than an index of the degree to which India's
political leaders are divorced from the ground realities of the theatres
of violence, and of the state of their own security apparatus.
Another aspect of the
Darbha incident requires attention. The Maoists are boasting about
the "dog's death" they have inflicted on Mahendra Karma; spokesman
Gudsa Usendi declared, "this historic attack has created a festive
atmosphere in entire Bastar region (sic)". Partisan exaggeration notwithstanding,
this impact must not be underestimated. The Darbha attack proves that
the state cannot protect its own, even as it demonstrated the sheer
relentlessness, determination and efficiency with which the Maoists
pursue their declared enemies. This will have inevitable impact on
Maoist mobilisation and recruitment in the immediate future.
To return to the issue
of response; shared anger, agitation and frustration are a matter
entirely different from a strategic consensus, and there is already
evidence of the quick dissipation of any such emerging consensus.
Partisan bickering has begun, as has the tug-of-war between the Centre
and States. Many 'experts' have offered their own idiosyncratic interpretations
of the Malay, Mizoram, Peruvian and other 'models' as readily available
'solutions', each with their own divergent recommendations. Despite
a greater apparent consensus on a more 'hardline' approach, the decrepit
debate over 'military', 'developmental', 'social' and 'political'
approaches, is already re-emerging.
a broad consensus on a 'hardline' approach does not constitute an
actual counterinsurgency strategy; nor does a determination to improve
'coordination and cooperation' between States and with the Centre.
Even where the 'law and order' approach and 'military strategies'
have been adopted, their character and impact varies widely across
theatres. There is no simple choice, with automatic and inevitable
consequences to follow. All use of force is not equal. The 'law and
order' solution, indeed, comprehends an infinitely wide spectrum of
Force dispositions, strategies, tactics, policies and practices, many
of them effective, and others entirely counter-productive. The reality,
moreover, is that the current and projected availability of counter-insurgency
Forces in Chhattisgarh - some 30 battalions of CAPFs (yielding roughly
12,000 personnel on the ground) and 16 battalions of Chhattisgarh
Armed Force (CAF, with a higher ratio of operationalization, yielding
another 8,000 personnel) - are not even a fraction of what is needed
to dominate the Bastar Division (nearly 40,000 square kilometres,
of predominantly difficult terrain) leave alone all afflicted areas
in the State.
As for the 'coordination'
bogey, it is useful to recall that the Andhra Pradesh Police resolved
the State's Naxalite problem with little help from other States, and
no more than the usual financial support for security expenditure
and Police modernisation from the Centre. On the other hand, Chhattisgarh
had 'cooperated' most enthusiastically with the Centre when then Home
Minister P. Chidambaram launched his 'massive and coordinated' operations
across the Maoist affected States. The consequence was the death of
hundreds of SF personnel, culminating in the slaughter at Chintalnar,
and no enduring gains to show for these wasted lives.
Current state capacities
cannot be reconciled with any coherent CI strategy against the Maoists
- be it 'clear, hold and develop', 'area domination', 'intelligence
based surgical strikes', or any other current formulation, including
the nonsense about developmental and political solutions. The present
enthusiasm for the 'military solution', 'massive' deployments, hi-tech
wars, and 'intensified operations' will, likely, soon dissipate. It
can only be hoped that hasty and ill-conceived political adventures
don't put more lives at unnecessary risk in the interim, as they have
done in the past.
(The author is an expert on counter-terrorism and
serves as the executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management
in New Delhi).
Asian Age, June 2, 2013)